Fri, May 11, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Implications of Taiwan Travel Act on the TRA

By Chris Huang 黃居正

On March 16, US President Donald Trump signed the Taiwan Travel Act into law. The act allows all US military and government officials to travel to Taiwan and visit its government, and it represents the US Congress’ first legal interpretation of the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) since it was enacted 39 years ago.

The TRA stipulates that the US should “maintain the capacity ... to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, social or economic system of the people on Taiwan,” but what constitutes such danger and whether the US should interfere is at the discretion of US president; Taiwan’s government and people cannot take the initiative.

For decades, China has threatened Taiwan via missile tests, its “Anti-Secession” Law, declaring an air defense identification zone, dispatching fighter jets to encircle the nation, infiltrating it, stealing confidential data and undermining Taiwanese sovereignty whenever it could.

These actions alarmed the public, but US presidents have done nothing, with the exception of sending an aircraft carrier during the 1996 Taiwan Strait Crisis.

The US Congress believed this was the result of a lack of direct communication between senior US and Taiwanese officials, and that a law was needed to authorize US national security officials, military officers and administration officials to visit Taiwan for discussion whenever necessary, while also allowing high-ranking Taiwanese government officials to visit the US and meet their counterparts in the Department of State and other agencies.

To prevent awkward incidents, such as former Taiwanese president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) receiving a US envoy in pajamas to protest his treatment during a transit stop in Honolulu on the way to Costa Rica in 1994, the Taiwan Travel Act stipulates that US departments must receive high-level Taiwanese officials “under conditions which demonstrate appropriate respect for the dignity of such officials.”

The preamble to the Taiwan Travel Act says the TRA has never prohibited exchanges between senior US and Taiwanese officials, and that relations “have suffered from insufficient high-level communication due to the self-imposed restrictions.”

Moreover, while the US recognizes that there is “one China,” the TRA does not contravene the principle of absolute territorial sovereignty in international law, nor does it contravene the Declaration on the Inadmissibility of Intervention and Interference in the Internal Affairs of States or the Declaration on Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Relations adopted by the UN General Assembly, because Taiwan is not part of China.

Nevertheless, while the Taiwan Travel Act refers to Taiwan as “country,” it does not recognize Taiwan or the Republic of China as an independent state.

Although the TRA stipulates that Taiwan should be treated as a country in US law, in international law Taiwan is only a temporary international de facto entity. A decision to become an independent nation should be decided by the public.

According to the TRA, the US is legally required to preserve and enhance the rights of all Taiwanese, including the right to self-determination and establishing an independent nation.

The binding power of the Taiwan Travel Act is even stronger: Every 180 days, “the Secretary of State shall submit to the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate and the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Representatives a report on travel by United States executive branch officials to Taiwan,” which expands Congress’ rights to be involved in Taiwan’s defense.

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